Plenary – Council of the Wise
For only the second time in history following the inaugural event last year The Council of the Wise and Elders this morning brought together some of the foremost African leaders and former Heads of State and Government. The council have all lined up behind the promise of supporting initiatives and actions around the continent towards achieving inclusive agriculture and food systems transformation as well as the SDGs commitments. The Council of the Wise is a vision of continuous engagement of leaders across the year, taking advantage of key moments to build and strengthen a common voice and position to deliver an Africa agenda. The Council gives an opportunity for these leaders to bring their considerable experience as former Heads of State and Government to share their insights, review progress, trigger action and support activity.
The session began with the moderator Aggie Konde, Vice President, AGRA setting out the agenda for the day before handing over to Ms. Jennifer Baarn, Managing Director, AGRF for welcome remarks who expressed her gratitude for being in the presence of ‘so many decades of experience.’
Mr. Maximo Torero, Chief Economist, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations was then introduced to the stage as the Keynote speaker who cautioned against what the world would continue to look like if change wasn’t ambitiously pushed, his speech, ‘Our Future with Business as Usual’ whilst sobering struck a positive note in terms of what could be done and was met with enthusiasm from the attendees.
He highlighted the many issues that the continent still faces, ‘Africa is facing overlapping crises which are drivers of the current food and nutrition trends. We need to address the emergency situation of the increase in the food import bill.’ But he also offered solutions, ‘it’s not simply that investment and higher spending is necessary but how best to spend that money’. To embrace the considerable challenges and turn them into opportunities ‘we need to innovate, the way we work with the government, all the systems are interlinked.’
He went on to outline how the current approach to global food systems requires a shift from business as usual to a more calculated and coordinated approach towards building a resilient and sustainable system for humanity and the planet. Recognizing that food systems are big drivers of greenhouse emissions, they also provide an opportunity to innovate with great solutions and exciting pathways moving forward, both for mitigation and adaptation.
Currently African food systems are failing to deliver healthy diets to all and remain a major challenge to environmental sustainability. Healthy diets demand a systems approach that acknowledges the central role and responsibility of different actors and stakeholders across the world, working collaboratively across other key systems to provide better diets for all, while also sustaining the planet for future generations.
Africa can achieve a resilient and sustainable food system through innovation in technology, science and policies tailored to address the needs of countries at a contextual level. The warning was stark however Africa must act now and change the narrative of a hungry continent to becoming one that is food secured, resilient to shocks and environmentally sustainable.
Following the stimulating and though provoking keynote address there followed an engaging panel discussion discussing not just how the continent had fared in the year since the summit in Kenya but what must happen in the coming year.
H.E. Hailemariam Desalegn, Chair, AGRF Partners Group and Former Prime Minister, Ethiopia began with opening remarks and spoke about internal conflicts and how whilst it would be easy to blame the Ukraine conflict they could not ignore the issues on their own doorstep. However, he did express confidence that they could ‘overcome hunger and create opportunities for the young’. He later went on to throw down the gauntlet, ‘I would like to challenge us to share insights that address the challenges that smallholder farmers face. I implore us to work together.’
Joining the panel remotely H.E. Ibrahim Hassane Mayaki, Former Prime Minister, Niger picked up that thread and asked what can we do differently. He encouraged greater inter African trade citing it as being fundamental to success, ‘Trading better internally we have a greater weight in terms of a global trading influence.’ He cited a lack of political will rather than technical issues as being the obstacle to this progress, ‘The technical tools are there, the improvement needs to come from governance.’
H.E. Lionel Zinsou, Former Prime Minister, Benin continued and focused on the growth they had accomplished in the last half a decade and encouraged the need to go further, faster. From inheriting an unviable continent in 1960 where the expected life span in some areas was as low as 28, the continent has made huge leaps forward but as Maximo Torero noted, ‘progress has stalled.’
The final thoughts went to H.E. Hailemariam Desalegn who spoke about the need to ‘relinquish national sovereignty in favour of regional sovereignty’ which would be to the benefit of many.